LAS VEGAS — For different reasons, both Utah Jazz players participating in Team USA’s minicamp were somewhat upset at the end of what had been a great experience.
Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward, who’d rather have his fingernails ripped out than lose, was less than pleased with the fact his Team Blue was defeated by Team White 128-106 Thursday night in the USA Basketball Showcase.
“We got smashed, but it was just good to be out there competing with ‘USA’ on your chest,” said Hayward, who made a post-Butler name for himself at minicamp. “It’s pretty frustrating (to lose), but what can you do? When I was out there, I played hard.”
Jazz power forward Derrick Favors, on the other hand, had an even more frustrating night because he wasn’t able to be on the Thomas & Mack Center court to play hard for very long with Team Blue.
Favors tweaked his lower back at practice Wednesday — no shocker, he didn’t tell anybody — and then quickly realized Thursday night that his mobility was impacted by the injury.
The 6-10 big man spent the entire second half in the training room, getting treatment on his back while 23 other Team USA hopefuls played an entertaining exhibition game.
“I couldn’t really move, couldn’t really jump, couldn’t run, so I just sat out,” Favors said, hunched over in obvious discomfort. “I was mad. I was mad as hell about it.”
Though ticked about the inconvenient timing of his back issue, Favors isn’t too worried about it keeping him sidelined from his goal of entering training camp in prime physical and mental playing shape.
“You’ve just got to regroup, rest a little bit and get back to it,” Favors said. “It just tightened. It ain’t that serious.”
The lower-back injury certainly explains why Favors looked sluggish in his short stint of just eight minutes (only player with single-digit PT). He didn't get in until the 8:09 mark of the second quarter, and he had a couple of turnovers, including one in which he bobbled away an on-target pass inside the paint from Hayward.
By the time halftime arrived, Favors had a very Vegas-like boxscore line. His statistical straight included one steal, two turnovers, three rebounds, four fouls and five points.
Despite his back and playing struggles, Favors said his second experience with USA Basketball — he and Hayward were on last summer’s Select Team that trained the gold-medal-winning national team — was definitely a positive one.
His takeaway from Vegas?
“Just how to bring it every day in practice, being around a lot of other good basketball players,” he said. “Just working hard and just bringing it every day.”
His two-team teammate, Hayward, is one of the guys who did that this week during three days of training sessions with the bulk of the best young American basketball talent — from Kyrie Irving (game-high 23 points Thursday) to Olympian Anthony Davis (22 points) and Weber State alum Damian Lillard (nine points, three assists).
Hayward made a strong impression in the practices and then continued his two-way solid effort in this intrasquad scrimmage in front of 9,513 patriotic basketball fans.
The versatile 6-8 wing, who started with Lillard, Davis, Dion Waiters and Greg Monroe, began the game with a steal, then pushed the ball upcourt and dished to Lillard for a strong dunk.
A moment later, Hayward swished a 3-pointer as Team Blue took an 11-1 lead.
Hayward finished with seven points, three assists, three steals and one rebound. He hit 2 of 5 shots and had one turnover in 23 minutes, but he seemed to be one of the few players who cared about busting it on the defensive end in this high-scoring highlight-friendly event.
“I gained some confidence, for sure. I gained some respect probably from other people,” Hayward said. “I just tried to get better through this week, and I think I did.”
That’s the word Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin heard as well after arriving in Vegas on Wednesday to observe Hayward and Favors.
"It doesn’t matter who he’s playing with or against,” Corbin said, “he’s showing his talents more — and that’s what we want."
Thursday’s balanced stat line wasn’t enough to trump the sour feelings from his team’s setback, but Hayward enjoyed his time with USA Basketball. This was his third national experience, having led the country to a gold medal in the U-19 World Championships in New Zealand in 2009 and helping prepare the 2012 Olympic winners in Vegas last July.
What did he gain from this particular week going against Paul George, Chandler Parsons, Klay Thompson et al. and being tutored by U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski & Co.?
“The experience the whole thing,” he said. “Listening to the coaches, hearing what they have to say. Just playing with these guys is good for me.
“Competing with the best and practicing with the best only makes you better,” he added, “so that aspect of it was great.”
Another great part of Thursday’s game?
Nobody wowed the crowd like Air Force's high-flying Nathaniel "Sgt. Slam" Mills, whose windmill dunk in military gear during a timeout break was the talk of the night. After fans and media buzzed about the slam, senior Airman Nathan Mills told USA Basketball media director Craig Miller, "You should see me without fatigues and boots.”
That’s what Favors might say about having a good back.
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